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December 27, 2006

Wishing you a healthy New Year…wellness resources for January

Have you made your resolutions yet? Are you committed to starting over, making healthier choices and exercising every day? Making all these changes on our own can be daunting, but with the support of the workplace and colleagues who are also trying to change, chances of success are greater. Creating an environment where employees are encouraged to improve their health pays off for both the worker and the company. Research shows that if an individual makes a behavior change and then goes back to an environment that supports that healthy change, close to 80 percent will maintain the change over a two-year period

January is a great month to endorse wellness for your employees. Workplace events can go a long way at promoting a healthy lifestyle and creating a supportive environment.
This New Year begins with a variety of national health observances and I’ve listed some resources where you can access free materials for workplace events. So get busy, send helpful links to your employees, stuff paychecks with health screening reminders or get serious and begin an all out health initiative.

Health and Wellness Topics for January:

National Volunteer Blood Donor Month

Healthy Weight Week

Cervical Health Awareness Month

National Glaucoma Awareness Month

December 21, 2006

Short takes: holiday pay, lift-outs, health-care reform, and more

Holiday pay: legal requirements - About.com's blog features attorney Mel Muskovitz addressing common questions and answers related to holiday pay practices.

"Lift outs" - an emerging trend? - Jay Shepherd of Gruntled Employees discusses the practice of "lifting out" an intact team of workers from another company and the problems that can ensue. This practice, which is perhaps more commonly known as employee raiding, seems to be on the increase. Jay's post discusses and comments on a recent article on the topic that appeared in The Boston Globe.

American bosses come in second - American managers may want to take a lesson from Avis and embrace the "We try harder" slogan as a mantra. In a survey of 70,000 respondents in 28 countries conducted by Kelly Services, Mexican bosses rated highest on a 10 point scale, with U.S. bosses coming in second. One potential area for improvement? About 29 percent of the U.S. workers said they were are rarely or never rewarded for a job well done. See the full study results (PDF).

Worker burnout - Douglas Eisenhart of HR Blog points us to a recent study on employee burnout that is discussed in Human Resources Executive. According to study authors, it is not the job that causes burnout, but the organization. One of the biggest employee complaints? They don't get enough respect. They don't feel they are valued or sufficiently recognized for the jobs that they do. We may have a recurring them here. Have you thanked your employees today?

Worker interruptions are expensive - according to recent studies, it is estimated that U.S. office workers get interrupted as often as 6 to 11 times per hour and the price tag for these interruptions may be as high as $588. While technologies like phone, e-mail, and instant messaging are intended to create efficiencies, the downside may be a drain on productivity.

How much does an employee cost? - Joseph G. Hadzima Jr., senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, offers a broad guide for planning employment costs based on analyzing various expense categories.

Health care reform - If the topic of health care is on your radar screen, you may want to follow a new reform proposal from Senator Ron Wyden that is under discussion in the blogosphere. Joe Paduda at Managed care Matters has been following this issue - he offers an overview and comments on the plan and follows up with a roundup of reactions and commentary from blog health care pundits. He then offered yet more thoughtful commentary on some of the proposal's core provisions. Keep an eye on Joe's blog if you want to follow emerging health care policy issues.

Holiday doo-wop - OK, we can't resist one more cute holiday greeting featuring Santa and a chorus of his reindeer crooning a holiday classic. You need flash and be sure to turn up your speakers.

December 18, 2006

Holiday humor to get you through the week

There may be those among us who can sympathize with this HR director who is attempting to stage a politically correct holiday Party. Celebrating the holidays at work can be tricky. Last year, the Guardian conducted a "Campaign for a Real Office Christmas (CROC)" and invited readers to submit photos from their office celebrations - the results were amusing. They also offered some cut out and keep holiday decorations for your cubicle. And speaking of decorating cubicles, do you encourage creativity from your employees?

Home or office, some people really go all out when it comes to decorating (sound alert). If you're in the mood for decorating on a more modest scale, here's a tutorial for getting some help: Tree Decorating 101. But if you aren't into decorating cubicles or trees, you may want to turn your favorite employee or your boss into an elf. As its holiday gift to you, Office max is sponsoring Elf Yourself (warning: sound)

Just remember. Not everyone finds the holidays fun.

December 15, 2006

A special HR challenge: support for military families

I got a call recently from an employee who had just been laid-off. She was a young mother with a professional degree who had worked for a large national company. We talked about all the concerns you would expect: Can I access the EAP benefit? How do I find out about alternative health care? Should I let my childcare arrangement go while I look for a job?

Then what she said made my blood boil. On the Friday before she was laid off, she saw her husband deployed to Iraq. Despite the company knowing her situation—she had taken the day off to bring her young child to the base to say goodbye—just two days later, on Monday, she was escorted out of her office along with others who were caught in the reorganization. This seemed particularly callous treatment, given her situation.

I understand that giving preferential treatment may not be a best practice, but some recognition of extraordinary circumstances seemed to have been in order. This employee was not offered another job within the company and her benefits were cut off within two weeks of her termination. There could have been a better way, if only to have pointed her to support resources. She was philosophical, "maybe it's a good thing, I can spend time with the baby," but in the same breath, she said she wasn't sleeping at night and was turning her heat down to 60 during the day while she sent out resumes and made calls. The baby was warm at the babysitter's, at least for now.

The conflicts in the Middle East have put burdens on American business as many reservists are called up, leaving jobs that are protected under law. But companies should also be aware and sensitive to the special needs of the spouse and family left behind.

A recent blog at the Washington Post by Leslie Morgan Steiner dealt with the tragic story of a young military wife and the impact of her deployment:

Two spokeswomen for National Military Family Association, a nonprofit group that supports military families, isolation is a particular threat for military spouses with very young children whose partners have been deployed. "Spouses face the regular pressures of juggling roles, but when their spouse is deployed, they become single parents worried about their spouse's safety, as well as the effects on their children. Military wives feel additional pressure to be resilient and take care of other wives who need help."

During this holiday time many companies open their hearts to our deserving military by sending cards of support and packing holiday gifts. As HR managers, it is critical that we also remember those left behind with compassionate business practices and ready support. Providing families with information and connections can help ease the strain. The military offers family service support, online chat groups, spouse support groups such as Hearts Apart, and 24/7 counseling through Military Onesource and (800) 342-9647.

Check in with family members and always offer an ear to listen. If appropriate, let other employees know whose family is deployed. Informal support groups can be invaluable. A solid job can be a lifesaver; members of a military family can find purpose and affiliation in the workplace during difficult times.

December 12, 2006

Tis the season...coming to work sick

How do you feel when you see a coworker coming toward you hacking and sneezing and wanting approval for coming to work in spite of an illness? I get angry. Not only do I not want to get sick, but I know this employee is going to be pretty useless for the day.

What makes people come to work when common sense tells them to stay home? The lack of sick time is an answer often given. In an effort to save money, many companies have reduced or eliminated sick time so employees face time-off with no pay when they get sick. The number two reason employees are absent is because of parental responsibilities. Often parents hoard sick time to use if a child gets sick so they come to work themselves when staying home is a better option.

But more often employees are afraid that work will pile up or they will miss a deadline. They don't want to be "left out of things" or "passed over" if they take time off. They want to appear dedicated, "see how sick I am...and I still came to work".

Changing this paradigm should be an objective of every manager and HR Director. Not only will a sick employee make others sick, but if a sick employee pushes himself to come to work, an illness that could have easily been treated with a day of rest can turn into a five day leave. HR organizations have begun to recognize and measure the cost of presenteeism. That's when employees come to work but are unable to function fully. They are present and absent at the same time.

In a recent national survey by CCH part of the firm Wolters Kluwer Law and Business; a human resources and employment law information provider, steps to address the problem were noted.

Employers are taking numerous steps to remedy the problem of presenteeism. Over three-fifths (62 percent) of companies that think presenteeism is a problem combat the issue by sending sick employees home; 41 percent educate employees on the importance of staying home when they are sick; 36 percent foster a culture that discourages workers from coming in sick; 22 percent permit employees to telecommute when they are sick; and 5 percent report they give employees an unlimited number of sick days.

While unlimited sick days may seem a radical approach, many companies are implementing earned time-off banks where employees can decide when and for what reasons they will take a day off.

Paid Leave Banks are one type of program that more companies are turning to for help in curbing last-minute no-shows. Paid Leave Banks, also called Paid Time Off (PTO) programs, provide employees with a bank of hours to be used for various purposes instead of traditional separate leave programs for sick, vacation and personal time. These programs were used by just 16 percent of companies back in 1991. By 2005, two-thirds (67 percent) of companies reported using Paid Leave Banks.

One type of absenteeism control technique that doesn't seem to help keep sick employees home is the traditional punishment techniques. If an employee has too many absences for any reason, they are reprimanded or disciplined. Employees will come to work sick to avoid this. Unfortunately 90% or the employers surveyed by CCH had some sort of absence disciplinary program. The first step in addressing this may be simply to send someone home. But a comprehensive assessment of HR practices related to leave will tell you if you are creating the right culture and sending the right message to keep employees healthy and responsible for their time.

December 8, 2006

Ho Ho Ho, Planning the company holiday bash

A couple of years ago one of our client companies did a survey about company sponsored holiday parties. Asking employees to rate how they felt about attending a party, 48% rated it below going to the dentist. In any case holiday parties are a staple this time of year and you may still have time to plan wisely and avoid pitfalls.

According to a survey by search firm Battalia Winston International, a vast majority (86%) of companies that host holiday parties will serve alcohol. If your company is in that majority, here are some steps to keep the party safe and free of unwanted problems.

  • Remind employees that company policies related to behavior at work also apply to company-sponsored events, even when employees are off the clock and off the premises.
  • Limit the number of alcoholic drinks per employee. For example, use drink tickets or have a two-drink maximum. Offer an unlimited amount of non-alcoholic beverages, as well. And definitely do not offer all-night open bar.
  • Stop serving alcohol 2 hours prior to the end of the party so all employees have a chance to sober up and instruct bartenders not to serve any employee or guest who appears impaired or is acting loud and inappropriate.
  • Provide for transportation in case some employees are not able to drive home. Keep the phone numbers of local taxi services on hand or arrange for cabs to be waiting outside at the end of the event. Consider booking a few rooms at a nearby hotel, on the company's dime, just in case.

Party food choices can influence how alcohol is absorbed by the drinker and since you're trying to avoid any embarrassing alcohol-related incidents, choose foods that are high in protein and starch. Avoid greasy or salty foods because they tend to increase beverage consumption.

It is important to take the focus off of drinking by having engaging entertainment. You don't need to break the bank on this, ask staff members for suggestions, games, skits and raffles are silly and fun. And if you want dancing, there are usually amateur DJ's available at holiday time. Check with you employees or call area high schools and colleges.

Also, consider having drawings for small prizes, such as movie passes and gift certificates to local salons and restaurants. Awards for service or silly certificates could keep employees engaged. This will hopefully give everyone an incentive to stay sober because they have to pay attention to listen for their names or raffle numbers, and that becomes trickier as alcohol's effects take over.

Have a good time but stack the deck in favor of responsible drinking behavior.

December 1, 2006

Study links work stress and burnout to an increase in type 2 diabetes

Job stress might be right up their with weight, smoking and lack of exercise as a high risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study. Researchers from Tel Aviv University's medical school tracked 677 working adults over three to five years. Roughly half of this group reported high stress on the job, and the high-stress group was 1.8 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, even when factoring in age, sex and obesity.

According to Samuel Melamed, one of the researchers, a workers ability to cope with job stress is also a significant factor.

"It is possible that these people are prone to diabetes because they can't handle stress very well," Melamed said. "Their coping resources may have been depleted not only due to job stress but also life stresses, such as stressful life events and daily hassles."
Stress can disrupt the body's ability to process glucose, especially in people whose genetics make them vulnerable, said Richard Surwit, chief of the Division of Medical Psychology at Duke University Medical Center.

This provides yet another indicator of the importance of Work/life balance and the preventive benefits of wellness and stress reduction programs in the workplace.

Diabetes: An epidemic in the making
Many health practitioners are alarmed at the spike in the prevalence of diabetes and see it as an emerging epidemic. According to a New York Times in depth-series on diabetes earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control puts the numbers of diabetics at 21 million, with twice that number as "pre-diabetic" meaning they are on a path to developing type 2 diabetes unless they take lifestyle and health steps to mitigate their risk.

Employers need to care about this. A 2004 study by UnumProvident found that the number of workers filing disability claims for Type 2 diabetes doubled between 2001 and 2003 (PDF). The costs to employers? As much as $33,495 per diabetic claimant, as well as increased disability duration.

The UnumProvident study offered the following recommendations for employers, all the more relevant in light of the recent Israeli research:

Employers can play an important role in helping diabetic employees through a number of intervention strategies:

  • worksite health promotion/disease prevention programs that focus on fitness, weight loss and diet, as well as diabetes self-management education (DSME) for employees who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides access to community resources for DSME
  • healthcare plans that incorporate disease management and case management for type 2 diabetes to help ensure high quality healthcare outcomes

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